By Mary Ann Chacko
I do not think I have cried as much in my life as I did at my father’s decision to enroll me in a teacher training college for a Bachelor of Education (B.Ed.) degree. The year was 2000 and I had just graduated with a Masters in English Literature from the prestigious Hyderabad Central University (HCU). I had planned to apply for an M.Phil. in the same University. But my parents had other ideas.
Extremely vexed by my budding romance with a non-Christian, non-Malayalee young man in the University, my parents decided it was time to bring me back to Cochin, my hometown. When it came to college romances, my father had indomitable faith in the dictum ‘out of sight, out of mind.’ Moreover, a B.Ed. degree would give me the credentials to teach in schools. Schools are here to stay and, armed with a B.Ed. degree, his daughter would always have a job.
For me, however, the plan seemed preposterous and unthinkable! The thought of attending a teacher training program after equipping myself with a Masters degree in English and, that, too, from HCU, filled me with rage! My life’s path had been so clear to me – an M.Phil., a Ph.D., and then a faculty position at a prestigious college or better still, in a University. A B.Ed. degree and the thought of teaching in a school thereafter was such an anti-climax! How will I face my friends, almost all of whom were going ahead with our plan of higher studies?
I was certain my parents had come up with this idea to humiliate me. Of course, there were teachers in my family. My mother herself was one. But she was a professor in the most prestigious women’s college in Cochin. How could she do this to me? Could she not see that once I became a school teacher, my dreams would be shattered?
That was years ago. Today my heart is filled with gratitude and the precious memories of teaching in a residential school for boys in Yercaud, Tamil Nadu. But, looking back, I realize that my meltdown was only partially triggered by the thought of dreams remaining unfulfilled. I was raging because I recognized the low-status of school teachers and teacher education colleges in India. Hence I did not want to be associated with the profession or with the degree.
The low-status of teacher training is not a new development in India. In fact, the late Madhukar Rao, a much admired Professor of English in Kerala, recollected that having a teacher training certificate could disqualify one from teaching in a college in pre-independent India. One of the primary reasons for the low-status of teacher education colleges and, thus, of teacher education in India is the distinction we uphold between education viewed as ‘pedagogy’, that is teaching, and education as a discipline given to research and inquiry.
We can see an explicit illustration of this distinction in the National Council for Teacher Education’s (NCTE) norms for the establishment of teacher education colleges in India. While a college of teacher education is affiliated to a University, it has to have an independent and separate campus and cannot be physically attached to the University. The rationale for this separation is not clearly stated within the NCTE norms and regulations. And, interestingly, this spatial separation continues to be enforced, despite numerous Education Commissions pointing out that such a separation isolates teacher education, teacher educators, and pre-service teachers from developments in education as a discipline and from conducting educational research.
In this context, it is worthwhile to note that teacher education is a primary concern of education departments in the American and Canadian universities. In these countries, the faculties, who engage in relentless research and teaching at the Masters and Doctoral levels, are also expected to teach pre-service teachers or students preparing to become school teachers.
What baffles me the most, however, is our criteria for selection of teacher educators, that is, teachers who prepare future teachers. In India, to become a teacher educator one needs a Masters of Education (M.Ed.) degree but one DOES NOT require teaching experience in schools. So the irony is that the teachers who prepare future school teachers have, in all probability, never taught in schools themselves! Under such circumstances, should we be surprised if these teacher educators harbor a condescending attitude towards school teaching?
To compare, one of the criteria for admission into the doctoral program in the Department of Curriculum & Teaching at Teachers College, Columbia University, is that incoming doctoral students (many of whom might go on to become teacher educators) should have teaching experience in schools. Similarly, my friend Haemin Yu, whose work focuses on Early Childhood Education, tells me that in South Korea teacher educators at the Early Childhood level require at least 3 years of teaching experience in kindergarten before they can teach pre-service teachers. In fact, some of her friends obtained their Ph.D. from the US but did not have the relevant teaching experience. Upon their return to Korea, they had to obtain 3 years of teaching experience as lead teacher in a kindergarten before they could apply for a faculty position in Early Childhood Education at the University.
In India, we relentlessly mourn the lost ideal of the ‘guru’. We applaud those who ‘volunteer’ time out of their ‘other’ professions to teach in schools for a few months or a year or two, while for many of these volunteers short-term teaching is an excellent CV building exercise. We vociferously condemn the ‘poor quality’ of our schools and regular teachers. Yet the government continues to treat teacher training programs with the utmost indifference as evident, among other things, from the Indian propensity to overlook the recommendations for reform in teacher education. And we persist in treating teacher training as an outcaste within our institutions of higher education.
Mary Ann Chacko is a doctoral student in the Department of Curriculum and Teaching at Teachers College, Columbia University. Her dissertation examines the Student Police Cadet program implemented in government schools across Kerala, India with a focus on adolescent citizenship and school-community relations. She is an Editor of Cafe Dissensus. Read more of her work on her blog, Chintavishta. She will write a series on teacher education in India.
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